The Masseter Muscle
Stress is known to manifest itself physically in the body, most commonly the neck and shoulders, but also the jaw. If the upcoming festivities have caused your stress levels to rise, the following information on the masseter muscle – a commonly over-tensed muscle when stressed, located in the jaw, may provide useful reading. And if you’re not stressed (hooray!), all the increased munching over the holidays may well cause some extra jaw ache, so this information may be useful anyway.
The major muscle of the jaw is the masseter. The masseter muscle runs from the zygomatic arch (cheekbone) and attaches at the posterior end of the jaw and the temporo-mandibular joint (located in front of your ear). Its role is to close the jaw and clench the teeth - so very important when talking and eating. It is one of the muscles of mastication, or chewing.
In some people the masseter is non-symptomatic. But for those who store stress in their neck and jaw and in particular those with dental alignment issues and a history of bruxism (teeth-grinding), the story is very different.
You can feel the masseter by placing your fingers under your cheekbones (halfway along) and clenching your teeth together. You may notice one side is stronger than the other.
This relatively diminutive muscle is actually incredibly strong and because it is used constantly throughout the day (and night, if you are a teeth grinder) it is prone to chronic tension build-up. When over-worked (and neglected - how many of us give our jaws much attention?) this small and angry muscle can inflict some miserable symptoms.
Tension headaches - the other muscle of mastication working with the masseter is the temporalis (also pictured, above), so tension in one muscle often affects the other.
Toothache - A consistently overworked masseter will keep clenching the teeth together, potentially wearing away enamel and placing unnecessary pressure on the jaw and teeth.
Earache - waking with jaw and earache can be a sign of bruxism. Because the masseter attaches.close to the ear, this can significantly contribute to ear pain and tenderness.
Temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome - This is a dysfunction of the TMJ (jaw) joint usually with pain, restricted movement, clunking and grinding.
So if you have a dysfunctional master muscle, what can you do?
If you regularly suffer with any of the above symptoms or are aware of tension when palpating the muscle, then gentle pressure of the main trigger point can be very soothing. You can find this by applying pressure firmly in an upward motion at the 'nook' under your cheekbone, about an inch and a half in front of your lower ear. This should feel slightly painful but very satisfying. Firm pressure or circular movements at this point can increase blood flow to the irritated area of muscle, reducing pain and easing tension.
Another way to ease tension is with a gentle stretch – this is as simple as relaxing the jaw and opening the mouth. Hold for 20-30 seconds. And of course, visiting an osteopath is a great way of reducing tension at this area and also assessing for any underlying structural issues that may be causing unnecessary tension.
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